24-year-old Gwenllian Pyrs from Ysbyty Ifan near Betws-y-Coed - along with five other forwards and six backs - have made history after being given the honour of becoming the first ever cohort of female players to be contracted by the WRU.
Gwenllian started on the Access to Higher Education (HE) course at Coleg Llandrillo’s Rhos-on-Sea campus last autumn. This ground-breaking news has resulted in Gwenllian having to switch her college-based studies to online. She is planning to go to university to study midwifery after her college studies.
Bangor-born Gwenllian, who trains and breeds sheepdogs at the family farm in the Conwy Valley, made her international debut for the Wales women's national rugby union team coming on as a second-half replacement against Italy in the 2017 Women’s Six Nations. She now has 16 caps.
She will now have to juggle her professional rugby career and farming duties with her online college course. Even before this news, her rugby training schedule alone was extraordinary: she travelled to Manchester twice a week to train with her league club Sale Sharks; attended training at the National Centre of Excellence in Cardiff three times a week, and also completed personal fitness / weight training sessions three times a week. But, as Gwenllian said, “you don’t mind doing the long drives when you know you’re going to put the jersey on at the end of the week”.
WRU Performance Director Nigel Walker said, “The historic awarding of 12 full-time contracts will enable all these players to be full-time professionals and have regular, weekly contact with head coach Ioan Cunningham, the rest of the coaches and our expert science and medical team. All of this will make a significant difference to the players’ preparation, fitness and skill sets in order to enable us to challenge the best teams in the world.”
Wales Women head coach Ioan Cunningham said, “It’s been a tough but enjoyable process. Credit to all the players who have given us selection headaches. We are all now super excited to get the programme started. Talent was the first element in our selection process and then the potential growth of the individual player along with their attitude. We clearly have short and medium term goals in terms of the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup but we also have an eye on developing the best players for the future of Welsh rugby.”
Gwenllian’s talent for rugby was nurtured by dad Eryl and developed by the family ritual of playing no-rules rugby in the fields with her nine brothers and sisters.
She was a late starter in terms of her rugby career. Although she had played with her siblings on the farm and had kept herself in great shape by helping her dad with his everyday duties, it was not until Nant Conwy set up a girls’ under-18 side, six years ago, that she started to take things a little more seriously.
Gwenllian’s course, the Access to Higher Education programme, is a passport to university-level study and has been provided by Coleg Llandrillo for nearly 30 years. It is a flexible programme which is designed for adults who have few, if any, school qualifications, but who wish to prepare for university-level study.
For more information on Access to Higher Education courses at Coleg Llandrillo, please contact the college’s Learner Services team on 01492 542 338.